So do you want to hear proof that it’s a very, very small world? Let’s backtrack to 2011 or 2012. I’m still living in South Carolina and hanging out with Rhonda at her shop on a regular basis, and she tells me about this designer with whom she went to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Her name is Sarah Watson, and she’s come out with a few awesome lines of fabric. I love this fabric. In fact, I buy up the entire line of Indian Summer in fat quarters and will hoard this collection like it is solid gold for the next three years. About six months after this purchase, my sister, who lives in Michigan, tells me that her boyfriend (now fiancé) has a cousin. This cousin used to design for children’s clothing manufacturer Carter’s, but now is a fabric designer. What’s her name?, I ask. GUESS WHAT SHE TELLS ME. How weird is THAT?
Fast-forward a few years, and Sarah has just released her third collection for Cloud 9 Fabrics, Biology. She has a wallpaper design through Chasing Paper at Urban Outfitters. She’s also just come out with her first kid. She’s a busy lady. We recently connected and she was so generous with her time to agree to a profile here! I loved hearing about her creative journey, and can’t wait to see what else she’s got up her sleeve.
How did you originally get into design?
I’m not sure that I ever really made a decision to “become” an artist or designer, it’s just the path that I followed. Creative endeavors were what interested me as a child, and not surprisingly, what I performed best at as well. I think it usually works that way, the things that you are passionate about easily become the things you excel at.
At some point in my childhood, my parents saw some talent and let me go to watercolor lessons. It started from there, and sort of snowballed. I started taking all art classes I could in high school, and when it came time to go to college, my parents supported me in choosing a design school. That gave me a good base to go on to a corporate design job, which I think really cemented the idea that I could make a living doing design.
What did you learn the most from your studies at SCAD?
Now that I live in Brazil, where college kids normally still live at home throughout their college years, I have all sorts of opinions on the independence you learn while living on your own in college. But that’s probably not what you were asking about!
The Fibers program at SCAD is amazing. It is a very well-rounded base of fiber arts and design courses, from felting, weaving, spinning and fine art, to computer-aided textile design, production design and so on. Because it is a design college, I think one of the big things I learned was the art of collaboration. Fashion students would pair up with Fibers students to work on looks. Photography and Graphic Design students would come in to finish the ideas. It is a really incredible environment in which to study.
If you’re not drawing, what are you doing?
Lots! I have a new baby, so currently that is taking up a lot of time. There’s definitely a lot to learn about working at home with a child — kudos to my Mom, and all parents out there. I had no idea.
I also love to garden. Having my hands in the dirt is so much fun, and also a great bit of inspiration: seeing life begin, and getting up close and personal with my main squeeze, nature. I have a tiny apartment garden, and also a wonderful outdoor space at the gym my husband owns. On weekends the four of us (that is Husband, Me, baby and dog) go to the garden. Honestly, I mostly pull weeds, but I do other gardening, the baby watches, and my husband plays with the dog. What a life!
Has living in Brazil been inspirational for you? Is it difficult working so far from the industry, or does it not matter so much?
It has been so inspirational! As I’m writing this I’m watching the sunrise over the ocean. . . inspirational, yes. I live in the Northeastern part of the country. It’s summer year-round, so I find myself drawing more tropical plants, and my colors seem to have adapted to the heat, a little lighter and brighter!
It is tough to be away from the industry. If airplanes were cheaper, and a bit better for the environment, I would probably travel more, participate in sewing retreats, visit quilt shops, and meet new sewists and creatives face-to-face. But until then, I’m pretty happy being with my view of the industry from the computer.
Do you pay attention to fabric trends, or do you just draw what inspires you? What’s your process?
I do pay attention to trends as far as how people are using fabrics and the way the market is changing. There are a lot of new substrates out there, which is really changing the way people can use quilting fabric. There is more out there that works for apparel, accessories, and home. So you have to think about scale and color quite a bit; for example, a print that might be great for a patchwork quilt might not work for a dress. I think there are some really invigorating companies and designers out there. I love what’s going on right now!
As far as my process, I just tend to draw. I’m constantly drawing patterns, whether or not I’m creating for Cloud 9. It’s like a hobby, but it’s my job (is that not the coolest thing ever?). When I start a new collection for Cloud 9, I have a chat with their amazing Creative Director, Michelle Engel Benckso, show her what I’ve been working on lately, and we talk about what else is going on in the company so there isn’t any overlap in themes throughout the collections being released. I offer up a few themes and ideas, any fun sketches I have, and we narrow it down. Then I really get to work!
I tend to do quite a bit of research. It doesn’t always show, but in Biology, my latest collection, I think it definitely does. The next steps are drawing, reworking in the computer, and color decisions.
Oh, well, you know there are all sorts of secrets that have to be kept, so I can only tell you so much. I’ve been working on writing a book, but that’s all I can say about that right now (sorry!). Lately I’ve been working with my hands a lot, and it really reinvigorated my love of making. I’ve got the itch to screen print fabric again. I’ve always wanted a little shop on my site, so perhaps by the end of the year, you’ll be able to buy some hand-pulled fabric. Who knows!
Thanks so much, Sarah! Visit Cloud 9 Fabrics to see the entire collections of Arcadia and Biology, and be sure to check out Sarah’s website for more of her fabulous work.